A Kildare man in London: The shoeshine boy signs that heralded our crash

Robert Mulhern looks back on the decade since the financial crisis

Robert Mulhern

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Robert Mulhern

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A Kildare man in London: The shoeshine boy signs that heralded our crash

I bought my an unnamed auctioneer, who was a ringer for Troy McClure from The Simpsons

Last week marked the 10th anniversary of the financial crisis. You wouldn’t have thought it in Naas then. I was still dining out on dinners that cost 60 euro a pop, with pepper sauce on my steak charged as a side, not to mention still water — that more than likely came from the tap — from fancy glass bottles with cork-like lids.

I remember buying a house in Portarlington. Off the plans, of course. Spending a couple of
hundred grand on something I’d never seen before was very much in fashion in the early 2000s, and the ambition to own more houses than you had fingers was still an attainable ambition by early 2007.

And all the talk was houses. Terms like fully-
furnished, things like sleigh beds and bucket chairs, they acted like commas to split up every pub conversation.

Just years before, in
college in Waterford, we were lifting old furniture off the streets and using it to kit out our student lodgings.

No one was worried about a house then, just where the next pint was coming from.

Now, Coors Light drinkers dressed in pink Ralph Lauren shirts were telling me I needed to budget 10 grand for furniture, and it was best to get it all on the new and as a top-up on the mortage.

My granny used to make curtains, I appealed. But in 2007, that was very 1907.

I bought my house off an unnamed auctioneer, who was a ringer for Troy
McClure from The Simpsons. He was all sandy hair, sharp blue blazer and the kind of sales patter that could tie you up in knots if you weren’t careful.

Few of us were.

I handed over the booking deposit of five grand like I was handing over a fiver for someone to get me a cup of coffee, and coffee nearly felt like it cost that much then — a double macchiato with chocolate sprinkles and a dash of vanilla.

I don’t miss queuing
behind that customer to order a cup of Barry’s.

So Troy slapped the cheque in his pocket and clapped his hands together as if to signal that we’d made a good deal. Then he drew his hand from his pocket, as quick as a gun from a
wild-west holster, and pointed at a friend who’d come along for the ride.

“Have you got a house?” he exclaimed.

“I do yeah,” came the reply.

Recoiling with a grimace, Troy exhaled a gasp of
exasperation.

“Well, get yourself another one then!” JESUS!

We laughed. All of us. I mean it was hard to argue with Troy's logic — interest free money from the bank, billions of it. And a guaranteed return on our investment stamped by the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern.

Looking back it’s both a wonder and a blessing I stopped at one house.

But I remember early signs of excess on the ropes. This was a few years after a blitz of stag-dos that ran from Liverpool to rifle ranges in Latvia.

I was in the newish O’Brien’s sandwich bar on the Sallins Road when someone in front of me ordered a cheese, ham and tomato sandwich “to take away”.

“So like you want that ‘to go’,” asked the girl.

I thought the deli lady from Hill Street Blues had somehow ended up behind a humble roll counter in Naas.

So the man ordered it “to go” and the deli lady kindly asked if he’d like it toasted.

“Toasted? OK, yes, thanks,” said the man.

Sandwich delivered and wrapped, he counted out the price to pay, only the price on the till was showing a euro dearer.

“It costs a euro extra to have it toasted,” she
explained.

The man shook his head. “F**k that,” he said and took off out of the shop.

Enough was enough.

And by now there were more worrying signs that the property market wasn’t as buoyant as Bertie had us
believe, and a new build in Mountmellick was beginning to feel less like Beverley Hills and more like Brookside Close.

I remember a conversation on Naas main street in 2007, and someone telling me they’d decided at the last minute to pull out on a house deal.

Their logic was rooted in the story of old Joe Kennedy, who was dissuaded from buying stocks in New York because of a conversation he’d had with a shoe-shine boy in Manhattan who told him what was hot.

The market was too
popular for its own good, Joe concluded.

I remember wondering if Troy was getting out, too.